I admit to being one of the old school when it comes to the FA Cup. I absolutely love it and always have from a small kid. Third round day still gives me a buzz and it’s even better if your team wins because you feel you’ve got a chance of further progression or at the very least a big day out at one of the marquee stadiums in the country. I think it’s sad that the FA Cup isn’t given the status it deserves as the world’s oldest football knockout competition because it’s still a big deal among my generation at least. If people wonder why I think that, Gary Lineker made a very valid point on the Graham Norton show yesterday evening when he said that back in the day, the only game that was televised was the FA Cup Final and Match of the Day only came onto our television screens 50 years ago and it was literally the highlights of ONE game in grainy black and white. Blues’ victory against Chelsea in the 6th round 1-0; a header by Fred Pickering in 1968 in front of a crowd of over 51,000 still fresh in my memory was one such game shown later on the Saturday night.
It was therefore with some excitement that I arose early to a crisp bright day, walked down to the shop for Mrs Bazza’s newspaper and purchased train tickets for my son Jonny and me. Jonny was home for the weekend from his work in Bristol and like me was eagerly anticipating the day. We caught the train from Blackwater just after 10 am and changed at Reading for New Street with the intention of walking down to the ground to take in the early game and a drop of ale in the Royal George. On the way in, who should we meet but Robbie Savage? I asked him if was he sure he knew where he was as geography wasn’t his strong point after all. He took it in good humour and Jonny and I got to get a picture with him which is attached. In the pub the Horse showed up which triggered a sing song so the atmosphere was bubbling up nicely. We took in the Blackburn-Swansea game on the telly so what was there not to love about it eh? A big crowd was expected and so we got into the ground about forty minutes before kick-off to allow time for some food at the Cookhouse before taking up our seats. Neither Chris, Will nor Little Jack were able to join us for this one but I promised to keep them in touch with developments.
This was a good game overall and Blues played well but ended up on the wrong side of the result because we gave away two soft goals. Anichebe, the pick of the Albion players was allowed far too much room for both his efforts, well taken though they were. The first came out of nothing on 24 minutes when a simple pass played into the centre-forward’s run was struck first time with his left foot. Paul Robinson failed to get close enough to block the shot but Randolph got done at the near post, the ball striking the upright and in. The second on 35 minutes was similar as the ball was played into Anichebe’s feet, he turned Robinson and this time shot across the keeper. Robbo to his credit did get a partial block on the shot but it wasn’t enough and the resulting deflection was enough to elude Randolph for 2-0. In truth Blues hadn’t played at all badly and were in control for significant sections of the half but the extra quality exhibited by our Premiership neighbours exposed our defensive frailties which are still clear for all to see despite our recent resurgence following Gary Rowett’s arrival. Blues did halve the deficit before the break in time added on with a well worked move involving debutant, Lloyd Dyer who finally decided to take his full back on. He delivered an excellent low ball cross towards the penalty spot where Jonathan Grounds of all people arrived to side foot in off the post for 2-1, a fairer looking score line at this stage.
Whilst it has to be conceded that the Baggies were the better side in the first half, Blues were the better in the second. There was much to be positive about with very good performances from Grounds, Caddis, Shinnie, Cotterill and Gleeson. Novak worked tirelessly up front and young Demarai Gray brought the best out of the substitute keeper, Foster saving twice from the 17 year old and kept Blues at bay with at least two other saves. Nikola Zigic came on late on as Blues went more direct along with Wes Thomas but the ball just wouldn’t drop for us and a resilient West Brom held on for the win despite 6 minutes of time added. Chris Brunt nearly added a third from a breakaway as Blues pushed for an equaliser, striking the post from a very tight angle but that would have been very harsh on Birmingham and fortunately the ball bounced up into Randolph’s grateful arms. Blues gave it a go in an entertaining spectacle but weren’t quite good enough in the end and sadly the game was lost in the first half with two moments of inadequate defending. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be downhearted; after all the Baggies are a Premier League side and have more quality than most of the teams in the Championship. If we can continue to play as well as we did in this game, there is no reason why our recent encouraging league form cannot continue. As for our opponents, good luck to them in the next round; the last time they beat Blues in the Cup, they won it! The scorer of the winner against Everton at Wembley? Jeff Astle who was honoured with a standing ovation on nine minutes from all sections of the crowd, home and away and rightly so as a mark of respect for a very fine player.
The Good: Spending quality time with my boy, seeing St Andrews packed, the shepherd’s pie at The Cookhouse and seeing a good cup tie.
The Bad: The result, which was because we conceded two soft goals. A pity really because had we managed to get back on terms I reckoned Blues could go on and win this game but gifting a 2-0 lead gave us a mountain to climb.
The Ugly: Some idiots outside after the game who had had a drop too much and decided to have a debate with their fists; no place for it in this day and age.
Birmingham City: Darren Randolph 6, Paul Caddis 7, Michael Morrison 7, Paul Robinson 6, Jonathan Grounds 8, Stephen Gleeson 7, David Davies 7 (Wes Thomas 86, N/A), Andrew Shinnie 8, Lloyd Dyer 6 (Demarai Gray 70, 7) David Cotterill 7, Lee Novak 6 (Nikola Zigic 75, 6)
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Callum Reilly, Jonathan Spector, Clayton Donaldson.
Goals: Grounds 45+1
Bookings: Robinson 67.
West Bromwich Albion: Boaz Myhill 7 (Ben Foster 62, 8) Andre Wisdom 7, Gareth McAuley 7, Claudio Yacob 6, James Morrison 7, Joleon Lescott 7, Craig Gardner 7, Chris Brunt 7, Stephane Sessegnion 7 (Chris Baird 7) Victor Anichebe 9 (Brown Ideye 81, N/A) Saido Berahino 6.
Subs not used: Sebastien Pocognoli, Chritian Gamboa, Graham Dorrans, James Morrison.
Goals: Anichebe 24, 35
Referee: Mark Clattenberg: 7 Refereed the game fairly with no contentious issues. Played the advantage well and allowed the game to flow.
Attendance: 28,438 (5,467 away fans)